As I write this, the world has been hit by COVID-19; a global pandemic that has changed human interaction as we knew it. In Uganda, we’re in our second extension of the nationwide lock-down. Business has closed, transportation halted, homes locked down- and barbers left jobless. Not Amos, though.
I haven’t had a haircut since March, so I look like hell. Amos, who’s cut my hair the past couple of months, offers to come home and restore me to civilization. An appointment is made, but it’s hard to get a hold of him; he’s understandably on high demand. After a couple of reschedules, Amos finally comes home for the much needed very-minor surgery. We kick off in silence, as all surgeries should go.
After a few brushes, Amos asks whether I love what I do (implying my job). I reply in the affirmative. He lights up, says he loves it when young people love what they do. I ask why. And that, kids, was how I got to hear Amos’ story.
The story- a very abridged version
For many young barbers, the business is an alternative to failed future plans. Amos has always wanted to own a barbershop and movie library. From as young as 16, it was crystal clear how he saw that playing out.
A school dropout in Mukono district, Amos asked his brother-in-law to support him with starter capital of UGX 200,000 to pursue his plans. His brother-in-law agreed, but wasn’t so quick on honoring his pledge.
“He said he’d give me the money in two weeks,” Amos says. “A month later, he hadn’t. So I began pooling small funds and piecing my idea together to show him that I was serious. I bought damaged sofas and used mattress foam and clothes to fill them. These would make for furniture. I also heard that a cousin of mine had an old laptop lying at home in Nansana. I begged him to let me have it and pay for it after I began working.”
Amos had the PC and seats for his salon. He still didn’t have the money to rent space, let alone the equipment to trim hair. At the advice of a friend, he joined a local salon and cut hair for UGX 1,500 a head, with a third of this as his take-home. His daily income averaged at UGX 5,000. Eventually, he left the salon over irreconcilable differences with his employer.
Amos and his girlfriend took on odd jobs to make ends meet, but also save up for his dreams. Eventually, they afforded space for a salon. Amos also managed to buy equipment from a friend, at a price so good that it turned out the equipment was stolen goods. After being subject to a police investigation, he had to let the machines go, barely a month after he had bought them.
The story was quite lengthy. To fast-track it, he bounced between three other employers before he ended up where he currently happily works in Kisaasi. He manages the salon, earning a more relieving UGX 600,000 monthly. His now-fiancée is expecting their first child soon.
We all have that relative that loves to promise jobs and never really follows through. Don’t let them set your pace. Start!
You might not need capital to start on your dreams after all- be innovative. And if you DO need the capital, innovate ways to generate it- waiting on handouts is less likely to yield much.
Many young business owners jump right into it, fueled by passion and unemployment. That’s cute, really; sounds good in the interviews. But it’s important that you take up employment in the same field first. Learn the trade; finances, people management, the customer purchase journey, customer service. You’ll need these to thrive, and passion won’t give them to you.
A lot of setbacks will come your way in your pursuit of happiness- if they don’t, something is awfully wrong. Learn to move on beyond them.
Who you take with you on this journey matters- a lot. Find yourself somebody that believes in your dream almost as crazily as you do.
Amos plans to keep learning more and more about the business, and hopes he can own a salon someday. He still plans on using his salon to also run a movie library. He says the plan doesn’t seem so long-term anymore.
“I pity young people who work only to make enough to feed and shelter themselves. If you have love for what you do, you’re pushed to better yourself everyday. And as you become better, you get people to trust you more. This will help me run my own salon one day.”
For someone that had just come to deliver the haircut that restored my sanity, Amos gave me quite the story to reflect on and take my life lessons.